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Massy Interviews / Nevada Christianson

March 1 — March 29, Massy Arts will host a new show by Métis artist, Nevada Christianson.

Métis Now: Elders, Artists and Activists is an exhibit that aims to honour elders, support artists, and celebrate activists from the Métis community. This project was made possible through the Nakaatchihtow Arts and Culture Grant, awarded by the Métis Nation of British Columbia.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.

Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

Click here to know more about the exhibition

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To celebrate Nevada’s exhibition theme and contributions to the Métis community, Community Engagement Coordinator Rafael Zen interviews the artist for Massy Arts, investigating portraiture as both: homage and reconnection.

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Nevada Christianson: Portraiture as a call to reconnect with community and tradition

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Rafael Zen – This exhibition is the result of an award by the Métis Nation of British Columbia, which relates directly with your heritage. What do you think it means to be Métis nowadays? What were you trying to showcase by choosing this particular group as your object of study?

Nevada Christianson – I can only speak from my own experience, but I see an incredible resurgence in Métis art and culture and an increased understanding that the traditional teachings of our ancestors and Elders provide the blueprints we need to be true stewards of this earth and caretakers of our communities.

On a fundamental level I wanted to quite literally celebrate the fact that Métis people exist. Our very existence has been under threat for some time. We occupy a unique place having both settler and Indigenous ancestry and our own historical homeland.

With this unique background we also physically present differently in that some of us are fair skinned with blue eyes and blonde hair, while others have brown skin with brown eyes and black hair and there are all sorts of outward presenting variations in between.

So that was one factor that helped shape this particular group — I wanted to show that we present in a rainbow of
colours and celebrate that fact, while at the same time providing some insight to the broader community.

There is a famous 1885 Louis Riel quote where he stated, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, and when they wake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” I do think that artists and activists play a hugely important role in preserving Métis culture and identity, which is why I chose to showcase them.

Elders are sacred. Their importance cannot be overstated. The love and guidance of a realized Elder is the greatest blessing there is. Volumes have been written on the necessity of preserving oral teachings, which Elders ultimately take with them when they leave their bodies.

As traditional knowledge and language keepers they also carry wisdom and understanding that sometimes cannot be conveniently translated. They transmit their knowing by simply being, which means that beyond their actual teachings, their presence is an honour. Showcasing Elders in this group was a given. I wish I had been able to include more.

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RZ – Why portraits? What do you think this specific technique brings to your artistic process?

NC – Literally and figuratively, portraits allow us to be seen. These portraits are a resounding call to Métis youth to connect with their culture and community. Métis youth have a tribe. An incredibly special, beautiful, powerful tribe and I wanted to use these portraits to remind them that they belong to something exceptional.

The traditional teachings from our ancestors are our birthrights, but only if we respectfully and reverently claim them.

Now, more than ever, I believe in the transformational power of art. Which is to say that I utterly trust my evolving artistic process and by extension, the overarching process of life.

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RZ – How did you choose the people who would be portrayed? What do you think they have in common besides identifying as Métis?

NC – I did have some basic parameters. I wanted to feature some of the unsung heroes of the Métis Nation — people who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to support Métis families, strengthen the Métis community and preserve Métis culture. I also wanted to make sure that there was representation from the LGBTQ2S community. And I
made it a priority to include artists working in a variety of different genres.

The grant was visionary in that it provided a lot of creative freedom, but by necessity it also had parameters. I didn’t have the administrative ability to put a call out to the broader community, so most of the participants were chosen based on recommendations.

Some of the recommendations came from early participants in the project, others from discussions I had with one of the Elders who served as an advisor to the project. Recommendations were also the result of lunchtime conversations I had at the Aboriginal Gathering Place, which is the centre for Indigenous students at Emily Carr where I study Visual Art.

Some participants came through work connections at MNBC. I did choose a few people who I personally found inspiring within the Métis community, including my own cousin!

Participation in the project required real time and energy. Not everyone I approached was able to engage, which made me extra grateful for the participants who did.

What do I think they have in common besides being Métis? Berry picking! Metis people love to pick berries. I can say with certainty that Metis people have strong connections to the land.

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RZ – In your exhibition’s concept text, you say that portraiture can be understood as a form of activism. How do you understand that in this particular practice? Why is this production an activist show?

NC – Shepard Fairey is the portrait artist that inspired me to create portraits in the name of activism. From Aung San Suu Kyi to Barack Obama to his We The People Series, his portraits educate, inform and inspire. His images are bold, colourful and stylized, which are qualities that hugely appeal to me and mirror my own approach to colour and form.

Colourful, eye catching portraits encourage us to ask questions. The first being, who is that? We learn because we inquire. Inquiry leads to understanding.

My goal with these portraits was to create images that superseded physical representation. I wanted to show the nature and vibrancy of modern day Métis culture embodied through members of the Métis Nation.

It is an activist show because through this imagery I aimed to inspire Métis youth to connect with their communities and traditions. Reclaiming the traditional teachings of our ancestors is a radical act! The atrocities committed in the name of colonialism were designed to annihilate Métis culture, community, language, spiritual practices, connection to the land and ultimately connection to oneself. The traditional teachings bring us back to the land, to each other and to ourselves.

They are powerful beyond measure, which means when we connect with those traditional teachings we are powerful beyond measure. Enter activism.

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RZ – You also say that the goal of the public exhibit is to bring people together to create connections and strengthen Métis pride and autonomy while making the Métis community as a whole more visible. Was pride something you could debate and dialogue while creating these portraits? What do you feel the Métis community is mostly proud of?

NC – Given the times, I never met any of the participants in person. I hope that day comes soon and I get to hug people because I truly want to! I did a considerable amount of emailing, but never got to engage in discourse with the participants beyond communicating the requirements for participation and answering questions related to the project.

My art practice has always been solitary. However, after completing each portrait I would often beckon my partner over and say, “Just look at this beautiful soul!” And he would smile and nod, as he does. I was certainly feeling Métis pride, if not debating it.

I cannot speak for the Métis community as a whole, but at a time when many people are profoundly disconnected from nature, I am personally proud of the fact that Métis people are so connected to the land and its creatures. For many, the reverence, love and respect for the natural word is deeply embedded in what it means to be Métis.

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